Poetry

Poetry

Rubrics

Things go unnoticed around here
while we do the important stuff
the singing praying sermonizing baptizing.
We don’t read the instructions
want to get on with it insert the batteries
push the button watch the screen light up.
Script stage directions steps one two three are all
fine print we think, or don’t until
we find ourselves at home
watching rain soak the garden
and notice that the screen has gone dark.
When is it that we turn to face
the back of the church? Do we stand or sit
at the Psalm and is there anything at all
about bowing as the cross makes its leisurely progress?
What words are to be said
while earth is cast upon the coffin
and who was it after all
who was supposed to meet the body

and go before it to the grave?

What in the wind

This was a gale that formed a fist,
a punch turning into a full kick that almost
sent me flying downhill. The Greek word
translates as “a movement of air.” But this
was karate; I loved the force of it, its full
release and enthusiasm.

In my tedium, I wish I might
keel over when that other spirit blows, or that
that fierce, holy breath would fill me to
almost-bursting, a red balloon
buoyant with air, pressure inside and out,
and no strings attached.

Casting wafers

In the back ward of the Alzheimer unit,
I prepare a table for communion
and drop two wafers on the silver plate
with a quick hand motion—a throw.

Dropping on the tray, two dice
tossed below the foot of the cross
stare back at me with their white face
uncubed, flat, and circled.

A shiver shoots through my spine:
we are soldiers still casting lots
for Jesus’ robe. I stare at the snake eyes
and wonder what I have won.

Two signatures: the sign of white crosses
stamped, nailed an imprinted metaphor
of bread stumbled through my eyes:
the body of Christ passes over my tongue.





At Hawkshead

Wee Agnes Sawrey widdow & Dorothy Tyson Spinster do severally make oath yt ye Corps of Margaret Tyson of Gryzedale in the Parish above s’d beeing buryed the first of Aprill 1696 was not put in wrapt wound up or buryed in any shirt sheet shift or shroud mad or mingled with Flax Hemp or any Coffin lined wth cloth or any materiall but what is made of sheep wooll only according to a Late Act of Parliamt made for Burying in Woollen. In witness herof wee the saide Agnes Sawrey & Dorothy Tyson have sett our Hands & Seals. Aprilis, Ano Di 1696.
                —Parish document in St. Michael and All Angels Church,
                   Hawkshead, Cumbria

In Norway when you die,
they clothe you in a gown
of purest white. Egyptians
sucked out organs, layered
presoaked linen strips
around each desiccated limb.
It matters what you wrap a body in.

I am one of the few that walk
the footpaths on the fell today
who put on wool against the sharp October air.
The scattered sheep are unimpressed.
Warming these hills with active tongues,
they are unaware that Parliament,
to buoy the trade, once ruled
that only wool could be the spun
and woven garment of the dead.

Agnes and Dorothy held to the law,
picking softest weave of shift
or sheet or shroud to lay against
the body of their Margaret—
like the Marys in the story,
who laid his body out,
washed and oiled, and put,
wrapt, wound up, and buryèd
each limb in swaddling clothes
to match the ones his little body
wore in Bethlehem—the cloth
he wore to meet with life
and fight with death—
he who newborn slept
among the shepherds
and their silent, woolly sheep.





Buried with him in his death

We fought for one more sputter
of the old life. Even though a breeze passing
over your sieve of skin could send you
screaming, you muscled up your diaphragm
to whisk more air into the fire.

I held my own terrors to my chest:
failures and brush-offs, cancers and crashes,
all the anxieties I had grown to love
heaving and cracking like your ribcage
until we both gave out.

Then there was the mess of prying us loose:
wailing women and splintered lumber,
flesh stubbornly sticking to the nails.
But what swift hands, that Joseph of Arimathea,
what purposeful footsteps crunching the ground!

He wrapped us in linen and spices.
Only the hapless world could think of packing
fifty pounds of aloe around a dead man’s wounds.
But we drank it in like deserts
until finally even the lizards scurried home.

I lay in the cave and wanted to touch you,
but my hands were no longer mine.
They closed in on themselves like daylilies.
The stone rumbled over the window of light,
and then our difficult rising began.